Europe’s Hidden Gems – What No One Tells You About Visiting Poland
Thinking of Poland, most people’s minds are going to conjure up Eastern bloc visions of grey concrete stuck in the poverty of life behind the Iron Curtain. History enthusiasts might think of Auschwitz; business people may think of talent to be mined. Very few people come up with an image of the real Poland, one of modern Europe’s hidden gems, a land rich with history, culture, spectacular architecture and unrivalled natural beauty.
Let’s recreate the image, to a true reflection of modern Poland. So that if you’re considering a holiday, or extending a business trip, you await your flight with eager anticipation.
1. No Two Polish Cities Are Alike:
Images of Eastern bloc concrete, hastily-erected on a war-torn landscape with little thought to beauty, need to be banished. Warszawa, whilst destroyed during World War II, is now a vibrant modern capital. Krakow retains its renaissance charm and was in fact one of the first two UNESCO World Heritage sites on the globe. Wroclaw stands majestic on the River Oder with a Centennial Hall sprawling, proud and eminent. Gdansk is rich with Baltic Maritime culture. Whilst Poland has its love of a city square where hours can be passed with a fine coffee watching the world go by, every other element of Polish cities is different.
2. It’s Not Just Cities:
Whilst no two cities are alike, a misconception of Poland is that it is all cities. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Nestled within the boundaries of Poland are some of the most spectacular European natural landscapes. Zakopane and its surrounding areas sit in the Tatra Mountains, an alpine wilderness waiting to be explored. Contrasting is the Mazurian Lake District spanning for miles with waterways and lush dense vegetation, a flora and fauna haven.
3. It’s Not Just a World War II History Lesson:
Whilst it is essential to remember the lessons of our traumatic past in order to apply them to a richer and more harmonious European future, there is far more to Poland than the atrocities of Auschwitz. Poland is the homeland of renaissance art and architecture, it’s the place where Chopin was born, the home of Copernicus the world-renowned astronomer. It’s also now a hotbed of contemporary art and architecture.
4. Polish Food is Delicious:
When people think of the best European food they think of the cordon bleu dining of France, the bright colours of the Mediterranean, and the varied pasta of Italy. However, Poland has an incredible cuisine that is just as unique and founded on hearty offerings that feed the soul. Poland is worth visiting for its Pierogi alone, whether you have a savoury or sweet tooth, and Polish vodka is famed throughout the world.
5. Poland is Family-Friendly:
It’s tempting to think of Poland as the grown-up destination of choice. Whilst adult visits to Poland have their own unique and memorable traits, Poland is a wonderful place to visit whether young or old. Children are thought-of and welcomed throughout modern Poland, with a national care and pride in the future generations.
6. Poland has a Sense of Humour:
Stern Eastern bloc Communism never succeeded in squashing the Polish humour, now it simply comes out wherever you go. Young people can see it in all the bars and clubs playing on the Retro Communist theme and you only need to learn about the Gnomes of Wroclaw to see humour happens on a grand scale.
Whatever you think when you think of Poland, Poland is definitely not dull. With gems from history to modernity, from natural landscapes to thriving cities, Poland is the modern day place to discover. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem.
The Masurian Lake District is best known for its awe-inspiring natural beauty created by undulating landscapes dotted with the region’s famous lakes. Visitors typically visit this region of Poland to relax and unwind in nature’s playground, with watersports, horse-riding, trekking, and other outdoor pursuits in abundance. Mazury is not typically on the trail of those looking to discover history, except perhaps a flying visit to the Wolf’s Lair if you happen to be passing. However, within the Mazury area is an abundance of World War II history, most notably in the prolific Nazi bunkers of the region.
Harrowing, thought-provoking, intriguing and more, these Nazi bunkers are increasingly being accessed by the public. There are those centred around Wolf’s Lair itself, but with a little looking you can find bunkers that are more intact and tell the tale of this part of history.
The Masurian Lake District and World War II
This region of Poland was immensely important during the Second World War, being the strategic headquarters of the Eastern Front. The result is that dotted all around the region is evidence of this time. You’ll find bunkers that are intact, bunkers that are ruined, an unfinished canal, and of course the infamous Wolf’s Lair. It is here that various decisions affecting the whole world were made. Indeed, it is precisely because of the geographical nature of the region, that it was used by the Nazis in this way. The hills and lakes formed part of the East Prussian Defense System. War here was a complex affair because of the lakes, rivers and forests. This is why the region between Lake Sasek Wielki and Lake Nidzkie saw most of the bunkers and Nazi presence. It was their hiding spot yet close to the heart of the action.
The Hidden Bunkers of Mazury
In the Spychowo District of Masuria, there is a tourist trail showcasing some of the fortifications and bunkers of the Nazi regime during World War Two. It’s becoming increasingly popular and is definitely worth discovering. The bunkers are hidden within the Szczycieńska Forest. In fact, the route isn’t a traditional tourist route at all, but is cleared by foresters, and it’s thanks to these dedicated individuals that you can explore today. In total it’s about 5km of walking.
You’ll find the start of the trail not far from the village of Potom. Don’t expect the tourist transformations that you’ve likely experienced in other, more well-known, parts of Poland. However, don’t let this put you off. What you’ll find in the hidden bunkers of Mazury are really in tune with how the passage of time has treated these relics, and somehow it makes them all the more powerful.
It’s incredible that you can now visit these bunkers. They were overgrown and being taken by the forest, but this is an important part of history we don’t want to lose. The local villagers have worked to restore the interiors, cut back the forest from the immediate surrounds, and even expose some of the original trenches.
Preparing For Your Visit
If you’re coming by car then it’s sensible to park in Potom. From here you can follow signs to the start of the trail. Bring a torch, and make sure you’re wearing sturdy footwear, as the ground underfoot is uneven, and there’s plenty of slippery moss! This is a true forest path.
Nonetheless, along the route you will find information boards that lure you closer with the history being retold. You’ll begin to understand the important defensive position this area held as well as the purpose of each of the bunkers.
Within the bunkers themselves are displays that show what the bunkers would have looked and felt like during World War II, both in terms of weaponry and the soldiers in position. It’s easy to imagine yourself there, and the feelings are mixed and confusing to say the least.
What is there to see?
Visitors to the hidden bunkers of Mazury can see a range of bunkers and learn about the differing history and purpose of each in an open air style museum. There are bunkers which served as shelters from battle. These passive bunkers were designed to protect the infantry in the area from enemy fire. There is also an anti-tank dugout, dating from 1944, as well as the numerous ‘kock pots’ which were concrete cooking spots serving the plethora of military in the area.
When the Nazis first made this such important place, the buildings were made of brick, and even wood. What you see now is the plethora of later replacements made of concrete which were modernised, reinforced, and later expanded. Construction of the shelters was still going on in 1944, and in fact some of the bunkers were never completed.
When people think of World War II they will often think of the infamous Wolf’s Lair. This is the place that Hitler lived during most of the War, and as such is a prominent place on the map of history, and made up of over 80 buildings. It’s not far from the Masurian Lake District, just to the east of Ketrzyn, and is open daily from 8am until dusk, so easily accessible for a visit.
Interestingly, it’s often enroute to the Wolf’s Lair that visitors realise there is more than just the most famous Nazi bunker, as on the road side here you’ll be able to spot signs for other hidden bunkers.
For those looking to completely immerse themselves in WWII history you can stay at Wolf’s Lair in part of the original headquarters in a basic hotel, or on the campsite. Furthermore the restaurant is in Hitler’s former personal security headquarters. There is no escaping the Nazi feel.
If you’re looking for more from your trip to Hitler’s Lair then there is a unique opportunity to take aim in General Jodl’s Staff Bunker and have a go with the replica WWII weapons and guns. Visitors during the summer months can also climb aboard a military truck or German VW Kurierwagen to explore the surrounding bunkers.
In 1945 Hitler ordered the SS troops to completely destroy the Wolf’s Lair, which they did with intense ferocity. It is therefore even more harrowing and intriguing, but really begs you to visit some of the other, more complete, bunkers of the Mazury region.
Hiking in the Tatras, in the south of Poland, is a spectacular treat. It’s filled with exhilarating vistas, invigorating paths, and spectacles of natural beauty. One of the most intriguing and well known trails, drawing those looking to experience the absolute best and extreme that the Tatra Mountains have to offer, is the Orla Perć trail, otherwise known as the Eagle’s Path – and with good reason. It’s easy to understand how Orla Perć got its name. You really are ascending where only birds will go. The views are breathtakingly glorious and you very much experience the ‘ridge’ of the mountains. The path, which in places is more of a scramble, or climb, is challenging and rewarding. It really is an enticing trail for adrenalin junkies, thrill seekers, and experienced hikers.
However, over the 112 years since it was first waymarked, 140 people have died on the Orla Perć trail. It is definitely not a trail for the faint-hearted.
The History of Orla Perć
Orla Perć was established 110 years ago in 1906. At that time it was set as a challenge to the very best hikers of the region. In many ways it was a local’s trail. It had status for those who sought to defeat it. It was an accolade for those already experienced in hiking the Tatras. Nonetheless, it was designed specifically to allow access to the highest peaks for non-climbers. Now, anyone can choose to embrace the trail.
The Tatra Mountains have long had a strong ‘fan’ base. The trail was the idea of a Polish poet called Franciszek Nowicki and Father Walenty Gadicki. Construction of the trail began in 1903 and was led by Father Gadowski. The route was finally completed in 1906. The current Orla Perć trail is somewhat shorter than the original, ending at Krzyźne instead of Woloszyn. The latter part of the trail was open for less than 30 years, and has been closed since 1932.
What Does the Orla Perć Consist Of?
The term ‘hike’ is probably an extreme downplay of what actually awaits the traveller on the Orla Perć. Yes, this is a waymarked route with a red arrow trail guiding the way. But also you will find steep and near vertical ascents, descents, scrambles and climbs. You’ll need to both ascend and descend metal ladders and strategically placed rungs, and use metal chains to traverse ledges and bridge sheer drops. It is, in many ways, similar in terrain to a ‘via ferrata’ that you might find in the Alps, but, in extreme contrast, you cannot attach to a continuous wire. The decision has been taken not to turn the Orla Perć in to a via ferrata, as this is an historical trail, and the consensus is that it should be preserved as such.
The trail starts at the Zawrat Pass at an altitude of 2159m. From here it traverses through the Zamarzla Pass, up Kozi Wierch, and ultimately ends at Krsyźnem, at 2122m. It is only 4.5km, but don’t be fooled by length, this will take you between 6-8 hours, or more, depending on your start point.
There are various intersections with other paths which head towards shelters and chalets. It is advisable to book at the shelters as they can get busy.
Why Are There So Many Fatalities on Orla Perć?
Świnice Path – 2301 m a.s.l., author: Wiktor Łucka/portalgorski.pl
140 people have died on the Orla Perć trail since its opening in 1906. This accounts for one-fifth of the total number of deaths in the Polish Tatra mountain region over the same period. The majority of accidents occur as a result of either slipping on rocks, or ice. Much of the trail is high altitude, with jagged precipices, and loose scree.
One of the main reasons it is thought that there are so many fatalities on the Orla Perć is that often people come to the trail unprepared for what it truly involves. This is not your standard ‘hike’, and experience and a high level of fitness are essential. Preparation is key – in terms of both route and weather. Parts of the trail are extremely exposed. It must be remembered that the Orla Perć was designed for those who were already experienced hikers in this region, for those who knew the area well. Historically, several accidents have taken place when hikers are passing each other from opposite directions. In recent years steps have been taken to prevent any crossing on the most dangerous section.
What Do I Need to Know if I am Hiking the Orla Perć?
We cannot stress enough that this is not your average mountain hike. You must be both experienced, strong, confident, and fit. It is highly recommended, that if you don’t know the Tatras, that you use a guide. You will need appropriate hiking footwear, be able to carry everything in a small pack, and take a torch should your descent head in to the twilight. The Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service also now advise that you bring some basic climbing gear.
Most of all, you should carefully plan your excursion. Weather and personal wellness are central to success. Falling stones can be a real risk, as can avalanches, so do check local forecasts and news. Fog, wind, rain and snow all make for more perilous conditions.
In addition, don’t be foolhardy. Take care of yourself and other trail users. In busy times you may be waiting behind someone struggling with a section, and patience is important. It’s not unusual for there to be snow or ice on the trail during the summer months. Sometimes sections of the trail become harder to spot due to a recent avalanche or rock fall. Careful assessment and experience can be crucial.
There is a ‘one-way’ system at the trickiest spot on the path. This section runs from Zawrat to Kozi Wierch. If you want, you can start the trail from Zakopane, however the majority of people choose to start at the Murowaniec Hut, where pre-booking is highly recommended. Alternatively you can start at the Dolina Pięciu Stawów Hut (Five Ponds Valley).
Orla Perć – The Top of the World
It might have a history of danger, but a successful experience on the Orla Perć will leave you feeling as if you are on top of the world. The sense of achievement is immense, and there’s nothing else quite like it. This trail is as much as part of Poland’s history and culture, as well as staggering natural landscape. It’s unique and breath-taking, and something for the adrenalin junkie. If you’d like to have a little insight in to what awaits the hiker on the Orla Perć, enjoy this spectacular short video (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtwJar_GE1I).
Be sensible, know your limits, and enjoy this spectacular historical Tatra trail. Alternatively, enjoy from afar at marvel at other people’s success!
A land of contrasts: deep conflicting history mixed with striking city architecture; alpine heartlands with a smattering of UNESCO World Heritage sites; a unique culture in the heart of Europe forged on the crossroads of modernity and antiquity. Poland is, without a doubt, worth visiting. But it’s not often labelled as an obvious tourist destination. To pass by an opportunity to visit Poland is missing out. Here’s why.
You Can Find It All
What are your travel goals? City weekend break? Culture absorption? Beach relaxation? Skiing or outdoor pursuits? Historical and architectural quest? Culinary experience? Party nights? Whatever your preconceptions, you can find each and every one of these within Poland’s borders.
UNESCO Know It
Don’t just take our word for it. There are a staggering 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Poland. These are as diverse as the ancient Bialowieza Forest where you can see the stoic European bison, to architectural and historical cities such as Krakow. Of course, also here you’ll be immersed in overpowering history at Auschwitz. However, also within spitting distance, did you know you can visit the Wieliczka salt mines, which are a mammoth underground network including chapels and lakes?
UNESCO World Heritage sites abound in Poland, and it really is no surprise given the diversity of natural landscape and history on offer.
We’ll come back to the history in a moment, but what else should draw you to Poland?
If you’re planning a gastronomical trip then chances are you’ll think of Paris for cordon bleu classics, Bologna for pasta, maybe even London for its gastro-pub uniqueness, but rarely will you think of Poland.
This comes down to a marketing failure alone! If foodie heaven is top of your agenda then we particularly recommend a trip to Warsaw. There are two Michelin starred restaurants here, Senses and Atelier Amaro. Here you’ll find fine dining with a Polish twist.
However, don’t miss an opportunity to get out on to the streets to truly experience the flavour of Poland. Bask in the sunshine of a town square café, enjoying a Polish beer, whilst sampling traditional street food such as pierogi or naleśniki. Pierogi are traditional dumplings stuffed with savoury or sweet fillings and you’ll find them everywhere you go. Naleśniki are the Polish equivalent of crepes.
Alongside this you can warm up with borscht, treat yourself with a doughnut look-a-like paczki, enjoy some sernik (cheesecake) with coffee, or traditional poppy seed cake makowiec. Don’t forget, this is a country famous for its vodka. You can experience flavours you never knew existed.
Poland Fits the Budget
If you want to experience real Europe on a shoestring, then Poland is the place to do it without compromise. Similarly, if you’re looking for extreme luxury, you also won’t be disappointed.
City-breaks and skiing trips are typically expensive affairs. This isn’t the case when you consider Poland. Airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet will get you from London to a Polish city for very little. You can stay in affordable yet good quality, and even quirky, accommodation.
Entertainment, attractions, food and transport are all relatively low cost for high quality. Poland is a way of immersing yourself in European culture and glorious landscape without breaking the bank.
History by the Bucket Load
Let’s go back to history for a moment. You really cannot underestimate the extreme cultural historical experience you’ll discover when you visit Poland. Here you’ll find medieval castles such as the infamous Malbork and Wawel Royal Castle, to museums which are interactive and immersive such as the Warsaw Rising Museum. Yes, World War II features highly on the agenda, as it should, with memorial sites such as Auschwitz, but the history here is so much more diverse.
Poland has existed as the crossroads of Europe for centuries. The result is that the country is an eclectic mix of history and culture. With firm Catholic roots you’ll see fascinating cathedrals and churches on an incredible scale.
The Great Outdoors is Simply Spectacular
Visitors to Poland are typically drawn to the world famous cities of Warsaw and Krakow. However, step outside the city limits and you’ll find a range of diverse and impressive landscapes.
For mountain lovers in search of alpine vistas and winter sports, or summer hiking, head to the Tatra Mountains in the south. You can visit here easily using Zakopane as your base. You can be forgiven for thinking you are in fact in Switzerland.
However, that’s not all. There are over 20 national parks in Poland, each preserving a unique habitat and landscape. You can canoe along rivers in Drawa National Park or watch waves crash at Wolin. Marvel at the rock formations you’ll find in the Stokowe Mountains or track down the bison in the ancient forest of Białowieza. Bird lovers should head to the nation’s largest national park, Biebrza, where the peat bogs attract immense varieties of aquatic birds, and of course there are the impressive mountains within the Bieszczady area.
You’ll Find Beach Life to Rival the South of France
If the South of France is typically too hot, busy and touristy for you but you still want to experience a wonderful beach holiday, then a hidden secret is Poland’s northern coast of white sandy beaches.
The resorts of Sopot and Ustka are ideal bases, and the Hel Peninsula is great if you are a water sports enthusiast. What’s more, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for here. If you’re looking for a quiet family-friendly beach town then you’ll find your corner of paradise. If you want to party by night and sunbathe by day, you also won’t be disappointed in lively Sopot.
Polish Culture is Infectious
Finally, a huge draw for visiting Poland is to get to know the Poles themselves. Family is very much the focus on Polish culture, and is at the heart of the way people interact. Children and young people are welcomed yet this is also matched with a business-focused entrepreneurial spirit which leads to dynamic cities. This is a hospitable and welcoming country whether you’re here with family, friends, or on business.
What’s more, the Polish love to party. Festivals, bars, clubs and entertainment venues bring the cities to life after dark. There’s always a reason to celebrate here, and drink will flow in abandon.
So what are you waiting for? Book your trip to Poland today and discover for yourself why Poland really is worth visiting.
If you want to experience a vibrant festival buzz, where new talent meets cinematic art, then you need to make sure you’re in Krakow between 27th April and 6th May. The Off Camera Festival is coming to the city once again, and the headlines are already making waves to build excitement. Described as the ‘festival of festivals’, it’s one not to be missed.
What is Off Camera?
Off Camera is an International Festival of Independent Cinema. Yes, there’s some focus on Polish talent and Polish language films – great for displaying and strengthening the country’s heritage. However, non-Polish speakers also flock to the city as it becomes the hub of new English language independent cinematic fare. This is an intensely dynamic festival, with a focus on vibrant competition, therefore delivering cutting edge films and as such is the place to be.
The central thrust of the Off Camera film festival is a spotlight on young and debuting directors who are the talent of tomorrow. This is a rare chance to get a glimpse in to what’s coming in independent cinema over the years to come.
Visiting Krakow during the Off Camera Festival
Whet your appetite with everything Krakow has to offer the curious traveller here, as the city is worth a visit all by itself. Sites include the infamous Wawel Royal Castle, Schindler’s Factory and the breath-taking St Mary’s Basilica. However, come during the Off Camera festival and you’ll see the city come alive with creativity, buzz and cinematic legends of the future.
What’s particularly incredible is that the city truly opens its doors to this festival. Films and events are staged in former palaces. For example, step just away from the Main Square (worth a visit in itself) and through the doors of Pod Baranami, and you’re still in the heart of the city yet at the heart of the festival. There are even rooftop screenings on offer so you can be fully immersed in the history and vibrancy of this city.
What to Expect at the Off Camera Film Festival
The festival is essentially run as a competition between debuting cinematic talent. Typically you can expect to be exposed to a choice of over 100 films across a plethora of screenings. Different categories exist to offer some order, such as Black American Cinema, Polish feature films, and Dark Stars Rising. Within these categories, 12 directors are directly competing for a worthy prize of $100,000, with other much coveted awards up for grabs as well.
Of course, to complete the festival atmosphere you can also expect a raft of parties in the city’s best venues throughout the ten days. Krakow does partying with flair and the Off Camera festival will be no exception.
Why Be Part of the Off Camera Film Festival in Krakow?
Well, if the above isn’t enough, you’ll also be a key part in encouraging and supporting filmmakers just starting out in their careers. Independent films offer something unique to our cultural make-up in a way that Hollywood blockbusters can’t. By supporting the festival you’re boosting global independent cinema and giving the competition real motivation.
You’ll also be an active part of discussion around the current film industry. You’ll see and be at the front of new trends and see how filmmakers are scaling current industry challenges. The rivalry is a backdrop for intense talent development.
It’s also worth getting to the Off Camera Festival if you haven’t succeeded in getting to any other independent film festivals globally. This is where you see a culmination of other global festivals, with representatives from other competitions such as CineVegas and the Sundance Film Festival, as well as global festivals from cities such as Berlin, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rotterdam and Venice. You stand the chance to rub shoulders with, meet and listen to directors, industry experts and actors from around the world.
You can find out more about events during the Krakow Off Camera Festival on their Facebook page, and the main festival website is here. Tickets are on sale now and you can buy cost-effective multi-passes enabling you to see a great mix of screenings and attend various events.
The Off Camera Festival Krakow – Competitions
The main highlight of the Off Camera Festival in Krakow held this spring from 27th April to 6th May is the culmination of several competitions. It’s these competitions which drive creative talent to debut their career at an elevated level. It’s these competitions which make the festival such a broad spectrum of talent, and a huge success. So read on to find out more about the Off Camera Festival competitions and what you can expect.
The Main Competition – Making Way
The central competition of the Off Camera Festival is called ‘Making Way’. This competition sees a culmination of debuting films from around the globe competing head to head for the Krakow Film Award, worth a staggering $100,000.
The President of the City of Krakow presents the prize but the jury is made up of international film industry experts. Various criteria are used to judge the films, but primarily they are looking the artistic quality of the film, what it adds to the independent film industry, how they use both traditional and avant-garde technology and techniques and the directors’ input and development.
Whilst the prize of $100,000 is hugely enticing, this isn’t just about pure financial reward. The purpose of this sum is to enable the debuting film creators and directors to invest in their subsequent film. Therefore it is all about hunting down the talent we want to see in the future, and investing in them.
Fundamentally it is therefore an exciting competition to be witness to.
The Polish Feature Film Competition
Being on Polish home ground, the Off Camera Festival is of course a chance for Polish talent to feature their skills. The Polish Feature Film Competition was added to the festival for the first time in 2011, with the first winner being Marcin Wrona for the movie ‘The Christening’. This year information is under wraps since the competition deadline closed but we can be sure to see some new names on the horizon.
The #63PL Film Contest
The #63PL Film Contest is being organised again for 2018 by the Warsaw Rising Museum together with the Off Camera Foundation and the input of Onet. This is a particularly exciting competition as it focuses on the next generation of talent: 15 to 20 year olds. Particularly it centres on stimulating discussion about who they consider to be their hero but it needs to be displayed in cinematic form, such as an animated film or even just an image, confined to a 63-second piece. It’s about originality, creativity and interest. Cash prizes of PLN 1500 to PLN 5000 are up for grabs.
The Script Pro 2018 Screenwriting Competition
Polish screenwriters aren’t forgotten with the Script Pro 2018 screenwriting competition that has taken the place of its predecessor the Hartley-Merrill competition. This competition is drawn together by the Andrzej Wajda School, as well as the Off Camera Foundation. Partners also contributing to this competition include the Polish Film Institute, the Polish Society of Authors and Composers (ZAiKS) and Canal+.
This is a fantastic competition for screenwriters who are debuting their careers too. In fact, entrants to the competition cannot have more than two feature-length screenplays in production already. It’s an opportunity to spot some great up and coming talent.
The Script Pro competition is really quite interesting as the final scripts are polished and finalised under the influence and advice of Poland’s top mentoring filmmakers, screenwriters and experts at the Andrzej Wajda School in a consultation stage. Prizes range from PLN 10,000 to PLN 20,000 and are much coveted. Alongside this is the knowledge that past winners of these prizes have gone on to see their scripts made in to films.
How to Make the Most of the Off Camera Film Festival in Krakow
Together with the knowledge of the competitions reaching culmination towards the end of the festival, and the myriad of screenings, lectures, workshops and events during the festival, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. The good news is that if you just want to pop into one screening, that’s possible. However, for maximum benefit you need to know about the festival’s different passes. For additional savings you want MasterCard MasterPass to really make the most of things.
There are a number of different festival passes available:
The Festival Pass Open: A general ticket allowing unlimited entry to selected screenings. Price: PLN 375 (20% discount with MasterPass).
The Festival Pass 15: Choose up to 15 selected screenings, ideal for visitors keen to get immersed in to the festival but also have time to experience the city sites. Price: PLN 250 (20% discount with Master Pass).
The Festival Pass 10: Choose up to 10 selected screenings, ideal for travellers who want a taste of the festival if they are passing through Krakow or only in the city for a few days. Price: PLN 180 (20% discount with MasterPass).
Tickets are offered on a pool basis meaning once they are sold, they’re sold! You can also buy individual screening tickets for PLN20, including, if there is availability on the day. Tickets can be collected from the Festival Centre from the first day on 27th April.
MasterCard Off Spots
For MasterCard holders it is also worth knowing about the MasterCard Off Spots which will be available during the duration of the festival. These are venues such as restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and the like which are offering a blanket 10% discount during the festival if you hold a festival pass or ticket. They will be marked on a map available from the Festival Centre from the first day on 27th April.
Find out more about the Off Camera Festival on their Facebook page or visit the main festival website here. Don’t forget to find out more about different accommodation options during the Off Camera Film Festival and book in to one of Krakow’s unique spots.
If you imagine Poland you might conjure up images of beautiful and impressive cities of culture such as Krakow. You might think of post-Communist history in Warsaw. You might rest for a while with thoughts of Auschwitz, or expect late night clubbing scenes. What you might not expect is some of the very best trekking in Europe, here on Poland’s doorstep. Poland is a country of contrasts: history alongside modernism, partying alongside religion, art alongside adventure. Exploring this mesmerising country with a backpack slung on your back and walking boots on your feet gives you a different experience: A wider experience. An enrichment you wouldn’t have known was possible in Poland.
With a network of around 15,000 of waymarked trails there is no shortage of trekking in Poland. Whilst no backpacker’s trip to Poland would be complete without a decent trek in the famous Tatra Mountains, if you have time you shouldn’t miss out on many of the other breath-taking areas of the country.
Best Places for Hiking and Trekking in Poland
Poland has a wealth of National Parks, each offering something very distinct and impressive to the hiker.
The seaside National Park of Slowinski is an incredible geographical experience. The winds and geography here along the Baltic Sea create the moving dunes that have now been recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The combination of dunes, lakes and forests make for interesting and varied treks. Some of the dunes rise in excess of 30 metres, and the ‘peak’ of the National Park is Rowokol at 115m. The lakes of the area, such as Łebsko and Gardno, combined with the pine forests and peat bogs make Slowinski National Park a haven for birds.
Tatra Mountain National Park
Classic hut-to-hut trekking in panoramic alpine scenes is what you can expect in the Tatra Mountain National Park, nestled along the Slovakian border. These Carpathian highlands are dotted with traditional inns and huts. Famed for its highest peak Rysy at 2499m, this is a popular National Park. If you’re lucky you will experience some of Poland’s, and Europe’s, most impressive wildlife here. The Tatras are home to brown bear, wolf, chamois and the remarkable golden eagle. In the Tatras you come to expect the breathtaking.
Zakopane is the town most associated with exploring this stunning area of Poland. From here you can organise all manner of activities, as well as guided treks, such as watersports, horse-riding and cycling.
The park has around 275km of way-marked trails, many starting or emanating from the Hrebienok Plateau. Although they are colour-coded, don’t be fooled in to thinking these represent difficulty ratings – they don’t! They are simply coloured to make following the routes easier. In this part of the Carpathians it is also important to remember that you must only walk on the trails.
With over 90 lakes, including the infamous Morskie Oko – Poland’s deepest lake – and high peaks, the views here really do make trekking astounding. If you need to rest weary legs don’t forget to take in the cable railway, Kasprowy Wierch, a highlight of the area.
Bieszczady National Park
In the South East of Poland, bordering both the Ukraine and Slovakia, is the lesser known Bieszczady National Park. Whilst still encompassing the Carpathian mountain range, you won’t find the sharp high peaks of the Tatras here. Instead, beautiful relaxing rolling hills comprising of pastures and forests are dotted with around 300 km of paths. We highly recommend the hike up to Tarnica and then head across to the Carynska summit with views of Solina Lake. Also worthwhile is the trek up to Połonina Wetlińska where you can take in panoramic views, and maybe even stay overnight in the Chatka Puchatka hut.
Góry Stołowe National Park
This incredible National Park will leave its mark on your memory for the impressive rock formations. In the South West of Poland, in the Sudety Mountain Range, are these spectacular ‘Table Mountains’. Down on the border with Germany and the Czech Republic here you will find a mesmerising mix of castles, caves and wildlife. Rocky platforms and sandstone cliff drops make for challenging trekking and awe-inspiring photography at places such as Bledne Scaly and Szczeliniec Wielki. There are plenty of forested areas too which make coming across the rock formations all the more amazing.
Woliński National Park
Not often thought of as a trekkers haven, if you get the chance then don’t overlook a trip to this maritime park on the north coast of Poland on the Baltic Sea. Here you will be rewarded with beautiful cliff top views and bracing sea air. Walks along the Oder River, and taking in some of the glacial lakes such as Warnowskie, interspersed with dense forest make for memorable walks. The birds and insects of this area are also worth a visit alone.
Karkonosze National Park
The Karkonosze Mountains, known most for the Karpacz skiing resort and spa town, also offer spectacular alpine walks in Sudety. Mount Sniezka at 1603m is worth the ascent, but you also shouldn’t miss out on the striking and remarkable rock formations such as Slonecznik, Konskie Lby, Pielgrzymy, the Sniezne Valley and the Valleys of the Maly and Duzy Staw. If you’re in the area then Mount Chojnik will make its way in to your heart and soul too.
Things to Know – Trekking in Poland
When it comes to trekking in Poland you do well to equip yourself with an excellent map, a decent phrase book, and a good understanding of Polish pronunciation. Unlike the more urbanised areas of Poland, English isn’t often spoken here, so at the very least being able to pronounce where you’re trying to head to is important!
Rescue and search organisations vary from park to park, with the larger parks such as the Tatras having far more developed services. All search and rescue services are voluntary. However, you should stick to the trails, and understand the basics of hiking safety before heading out.
Weather in the Polish National Parks can range enormously. Temperatures during the summer months in the mountains can range from hot in the day to positively cold at night. Pack layers and plenty of water.
In Polish National Parks, camping is usually prohibited outside of designated sites which are usually away from the trails. However, usually areas are well served with huts and shelters which are perfect for sheltering from some harsh weather, or even spending the night. Check your route before you go. It should also note that dogs may not be allowed on trails.
Trekking in Poland – Where to Start
There is a huge range of treks in Poland. You can either book an organised trek as a stand-alone holiday, join a group out of a regional centre such as Zakopane or Karpacz, or plan your own trip. For information of every Polish trekking trail you can imagine, with ranking for ease and difficulty, as well as maps to download and routes to follow, see here (link: https://www.wikiloc.com/trails/hiking/poland). We’re sure you’ll discover there’s more to Poland to be discovered, and make memories to last a lifetime.
For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, The Black Madonna at the Jasna Góra monastery in Czestochowa is a world-renowned pilgrimage. For Poles themselves, this is the centre of Polish Catholicism. This city in Southern Poland nestled on the Warta River, has earned its place on the map for the miraculous powers attributed to this outstanding painting. Indeed, Jasna Góra is listed as one of Poland’s historic monuments, elevating it beyond the realm of Catholicism alone, and now also recognising it for its cultural and historical significance.
Whilst Czestochowa is accessible in around 90 minutes from Krakow, this is a very full day trip, and really worthy of longer, and therefore you might consider staying nearby
What is The Black Madonna?
The painting which is the focal point for millions of pilgrims visiting Jasna Góra is known as The Black Madonna, or sometimes Our Lady of Czestochowa. In short it is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, but in reality is symbolises so much more.
Believed to have been painted by St Luke himself, the painting has been in Poland for over 600 years. There have been attempts to scientifically date the painting, however, it was badly damaged and restored in the 1400s which has posed immense problems. It has received various Canonical Coronations, most recently on 26th August 2005 by Pope John Paul II.
The Black Madonna is a gilded painting of the Mother of God with the Christ Child in her arms standing proud at around 4ft in height. Numerous miracles have been attributed to the painting: Amongst others, the painting is believed to have saved the Jasna Góra monastery during a siege in the 17th Century, in the time of ‘The Deluge’, a Swedish invasion.
Visiting The Black Madonna at Jasna Gora
Whilst a visit to see The Black Madonna herself is of course the focal point of many, both pilgrims and tourists, who visit Jasna Góra, there is so much more within the monastery complex to amaze, humble, and impress the visitor. To enjoy Jasna Góra, you will need to be part of a guided tour, and tours can be provided in different languages. This is a busy site, bubbling with excitement, but once within the Basilica and in front of the painting itself, decorum and silence is paramount.
Visiting Jasna Góra will usually take in the following sites:
The intimate Chapel housing the painting of The Black Madonna
The impressive Basilica of Jasna Góra
The Knights’ Hall
The Treasury: the oldest part of the museum displaying a wide range of offerings to the Virgin Mary such as silverware, liturgy items, and jewellery
The 600th Year Anniversary Museum: opened in 1982 and displaying a wealth of paintings, offerings and dresses.
The St Roch Bastion: built in 1624-39 with a plethora of 18th Century exhibits, as well as outside exhibitions to the Solidarity movement, and war memorials
The Arsenal: an art exhibition marking the Day of the Holy Cross Raising
The Tower of Jasna Góra: a 106m bell tower, the tallest in Poland, rebuilt in 1906 and housing four impressive clocks.
The visitor’s complex at Jasna Góra is open daily year round with the exception of some notable dates:
New Years’ Day
Two days at Easter
All Saints’ Day
Independence Day (1th November)
The History of Jasna Góra
The history of the Jasna Góra monastery, and the painting of The Black Madonna herself, has a complex and intriguing history.
The origins of the painting are believed to lie with Luke the Evangelist who is thought to have completed the painting on a table built by Jesus himself. The painting was then discovered by St Helen, whereupon it was moved to Constantinople – where it remained for around 500 years.
The Black Madonna was later given as a wedding gift to a Greek princess, who was marrying a Ruthenian nobleman. The painting stayed in its new home in a Royal Palace in Belz for a further 600 years.
It is then believed that the painting arrived in Poland in 1382 carried by a Polish army, who at the time were escaping the Tartars. Legend holds that during this raid on Belz, an eerie and powerful cloud surrounded the chapel where the painting was held, the first of many miracles attributed to the painting.
In 1386 a monastery was founded in Czestochowa to home the miraculous icon. King Jagiello built a Basilica to form the central home. It wasn’t long however, until once again the painting was back under attack.
In 1430, Hussites raided the monastery and this caused rise to another miracle. In the attack, the Madonna’s face was slashed with a sword. The painting was said to be surrounded by not only mud from the raid, but also blood from the wound. When monks attempted to retrieve the painting, legend holds that a beautiful fountain appeared which they could use to clean the painting. Whilst the icon was repainted, the slashes remain visible even now.
The most infamous miracle is probably that which occurred in 1655. This was the occasion that a Swedish army attempted to invade the city of Czestochowa. Both monks and Polish soldiers prayed in the aura of the painting to be saved, and despite the Swedish army being notably dominant in size, they did in fact retreat.
King John Casimir elevated Czestochowa to the spiritual capital of the country in 1656 when he named The Black Madonna, the ‘Queen of Poland’.
Moving in to more modern history, the icon was again said to come to the assistance of the Poles when a Russian army was attempting to attack Warsaw. This time, belief holds that on 15th September 1920, the Virgin Mary appeared in the clouds above Warsaw following prayers to the icon in Czestochowa. This saw the Russian’s defeated, and has been called the ‘Miracle at the Vistula’.
During World War II, when Poland was occupied by the Nazis, pilgrimages to Jasna Góra were prohibited. Following liberation in 1945, a staggering half a million pilgrimages took place.
Polish, John Paul II made several pilgrimages to pray at the icon of The Black Madonna including holding a World Youth Day there in 1991.
Tourist or Pilgrim
Whether you’re a tourist fascinated by legend, myth, history and art, or whether you’re a devoted pilgrim on the path of prayer, you will find a welcoming and spiritual feel at Czestochowa, and particularly within the Jasna Góra. You cannot fail but be humbled by the icon that is The Black Madonna, or be moved by this religious heart of Poland.
Chances are, if you think of Poland you think of history, and with good reason. However, oftentimes it’s a narrow view of history: World War II, and with good reason. But Polish history didn’t start and stop with WWII. It was absolutely defining yes, and definitely a part of a history buffs trip to Poland should be discovering this part of Polish and European history on the ground, but there is so much more to be discovered.
Everywhere you look and go in Poland you are walking in a living museum. History is immersive and all around you in the incredible cities of this country which sits at the cross-roads of Europe. History buffs love Poland for all it has to offer.
Poland’s World Famous History
Nonetheless, Poland is probably most famous, historically, for its role in World War II and the fate of the Jews living within its borders. This harrowing element of history has to be paid homage too, not just by history lovers but by any compassionate and social visitor to Poland.
Probably Poland’s most famous historical site is Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors will leave their historical scholar approach under the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work will set you free) arch, and become just another human staggered by the depth of their own humanity and the depravity of others when met with the sheer scale of this memorial to those who lost their lives in this immense concentration camp.
If one concentration camp isn’t enough for you then there is also the KZ Majdanek near Lublin which also tells the tale of not only Polish Jews but also Soviet Prisoners of War.
Within Krakow is Schindler’s Museum, an evocative chronological story of the events of World War II as you step through Otto Schindler’s infamous factory. It tells the tale of not only the concentration camps but of the war itself, everyday life as lived under occupation, and the encouraging tale of the underground resistance.
If you’re wanting to complete a WWII tour of Poland then your trip must include a visit to Wolf’s Lair in Gierloz, made famous as Hitler’s base on the Eastern Front. Nestled in some of Poland’s deepest woodland, Hitler himself ordered the destruction of the Wolf’s Lair, but the ruins have been transformed in to an intriguing museum.
History lovers must embrace the World War II element of Polish history – it is integral to what happened before and since in Poland.
Beyond World War II – Poland’s Medieval History On
For those with a little more history knowledge you’re likely to associate Poland, and in particular the city of Krakow, with medieval history and renaissance architecture. Heading back in time becomes easy on the streets of Krakow, which unlike many other Polish cities survived World War II relatively unscathed.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow’s history dates back to the 10th Century, and there is plenty evidence of it today mostly preserved in the medieval city core and the Jewish corner, including the world famous St Mary’s Basilica.
Wawel Castle has seen centuries of Royal history since its commissioning by Casimir III The Great in the 14th Century, and resided in by the Polish Royal Family for hundreds of years.
To gain a better perspective on the lives and history of Polish Jews which is wider in scope than World War II, the Jewish Quarter of Krakow has been the centre of Jewish life for over 500 years. In Krakow you can also see part of the old Krakow Ghetto Wall.
Head underground to the Rynek Underground, a branch of the Historical Museum of Krakow, situated actually under the Market Square, for a thoroughly contemporary multi-media-evoked atmosphere through fog and holograms which recreate the scenes of sense of Krakow’s Market Square as it would have been experienced in the Middle Ages.
If you really want to step back in time even further, then visit the Krakow Archaeological Museum which contains a staggering array of artefacts from the Palaeolithic period up until the Middle Ages and Medieval times.
Whilst Krakow is likely to draw the most visitors interested in history due to its own sites and its proximity to Auschwitz, true history buffs will also find themselves in their element in Warsaw.
Warsaw was crushed during World War II and little remains of the original city, so it reflects different elements of Polish history. From street level, visitors should take in the Palace of Science and Culture, a remnant of the Communist post-war era. It was one of several ‘People’s Palaces’ and was gifted to the Poles by the Soviet people. Having been created in Stalinist style it is highly evocative of the Communist era.
Warsaw is also fascinating for history lovers due to two other museums: the Chopin Museum, telling the story of Poland’s most famous composer, and the POLIN Museum. The POLIN Museum is one of Poland’s newest museums and gives visitors a fascinating understanding of Poland’s Jews, without neglecting their history before and after the war, rather giving credence to the entire 1000 year history.
Of course, Warsaw also has its share of WWII history on display, and whilst here history buffs should visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum which is both a moving and interactive re-telling of the 63 day struggle by the Polish Underground Home Army in their attempt to quash the Nazis in 1944.
Poland’s two main cities are so inherently juxtaposed when it comes to history and their modern feel. However, history lovers should not end their Polish tour having just seen these two cities. Poland has so much more to offer the history buff.
Heading north to the Baltic shores, those interested in European history should visit Gdansk, and in particular, the European Solidarity Centre which has only been open for a few years. This unique museum tells the history of the fight against Communism. European, and indeed world, history would not been the same today if it wasn’t for the events told within these walls.
Also in Northern Poland, but starkly contrasting with the European Solidarity Centre, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site – Malbork Castle. Really the term ‘castle’ here is a misnomer, this is a vast collection of hundreds of buildings including a palace, monastery, and in fact, three castles. Malbork dates back to 1274, and from 1309 was the headquarters of the Teutonic Knights, seeing various additions and transformations until 1466 when it became one of the homes of the Polish Royal Family.
A potted history guide to Poland wouldn’t be complete without mentioning another site so inherently unique to Poland. You should, without a doubt, pay a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Salt was continuously mined here from the 13th Century until 2007, but if you’re expecting a dull and derelict quarry you couldn’t be more wrong. Rather, Wieliczka is a relic of history itself housing an underground city carved from the salt and rock, even housing a cathedral.
History buffs love Poland, and with good reason. There is so much here to see, do, and immerse yourself in. Not only will you learn more to feed your passion, you’ll experience history in a way nowhere else in the world can compare.
We left Warsaw for Krakow under the impression it would take about 4 hours to drive. What we hadn’t factored in was how bad the Polish traffic is. I honestly did not expect for there to be gridlock at all hours of the day, but there was! It took us forever to actually get out of Warsaw which was around 10:30am but we were confident we would get to the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow around 4:15, for the last tour that ran at 5pm. Once again, the roads were challenging (very few motorways in this part of Europe!) and when we reached the outskirts of Krakow at 4:00pm we were confident we would make the tour. That confidence will get you! We suddenly hit traffic that makes Brisbane peak hour seem like a day at Disneyland. I was driving and it was stop, start and putting Scarlett in to first gear is not a pleasant task. We made the Salt Mine at 5:02pm. What should have been a 15 minute trip, took an hour, and we missed the last tour. We instead went up the Graduation Tower for a look around, wondered what the point of it was, and decided we would come back for the tour on Friday morning.
Once again, being the shoulder season a few campsites were closed and our options on where to stay were limited. We chose Camping Smok and regretted it. The lady was icy, it was basically her backyard and they had shut the amenities block for the season so we only had a creepy toilet to use, and the two showers available were only open until 8pm. Of course the WIFI was dodgy and we had to pay full price for the muddy site with limited amenities. She only took cash and we were the equivalent of $3 short and asked if we could get her the extra money in the morning. She wasn’t too happy about it and took Brad’s license as a guarantee. If it wasn’t late in the day and if we hadn’t been crazy tired from all of the traffic, we would have driven out of there.
On Friday we did make it to Wieliczka Salt Mine and it was really interesting! It was the most tourists we have seen and the woman taking the tour was professional and informative. The 2.5 hours went really quickly.
Even though the mine is no longer in commission, they produce 10 000 tonnes of salt a year to maintain it by extracting the brine water. The air down there is 10 x saltier than regular air, and they mentioned a few times how good it is for your health and can assist with respiratory problems. You can also pay to go to their wellness centre, and breathe in salty air for 8 hours.
The mine was spectacular though and the chapel and sculptures that are purely carved out of salt were worth seeing.
The tour finished around 1:30pm at which time we were STARVING. We took a taxi in to the Old Town and had a late lunch. I had the best steak I’ve had in a long time with vegetables and Brad had veal knuckle which was also tasty. After a few hours wandering, we ordered an Uber to go back to camp. Our driver was excellent! He was a young Polish man who spoke fluent English and could not believe we had travelled all the way from Australia. He also asked us if it was okay if he drove the wrong way down a one-way street as it was save the three of us 40 minutes of sitting in traffic. We said that was perfectly okay and were grateful for the time saving!
On Saturday morning we left Krakow for a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. It was a 1 hour 15 minute drive and as we got close to the camp, we got stuck in more traffic and it took us an hour to to do that remaining 15 minutes. We arrived eventually and saw the only English tour left was at 2pm and it had one space. When we arrived I got a weird vibe from the place. It was incredibly busy and crowded with tourists. Back in 2014 I visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria and it was an incredibly humbling and moving experience. It was a privilege to pay my respects to the people who had been so brutally treated, and murdered during the Holocaust. I told Brad my concerns but he wanted to take the tour, so we waited the two hours and had a friendly ticket woman that snuck us both on to the tour.
After Auschwitz we headed to Wroclaw to spend the night, before making it back to Berlin on Sunday. Here we stayed in another campsite that was someone’s back yard, it was muddy, and the showers and toilets were portable ones that were dirty and the hot water was only on for two hours a night and the WIFI didn’t work. $38 NOT well spent.
It was a challenging couple of days but Poland did have McDonalds that are set out just like they are at home as well as McCafe’s and PayPass at most places so there’s a plus…
Poland is a country worth visiting, but perhaps stay in hotels and use public transport!
Original post you can find here: https://millennialadventures.com/2015/10/28/krakow-auschwitz-and-wroclaw-poland/
You might be expecting this entry to be slimline, after all, Poland is the quintessential adult destination, right? Well, yes, Poland is a superb destination for adults, but it’s not exclusive. Poland packs a punch when it comes to offering something for kids of all ages, interests, and personalities. What’s more, the best Polish child friendly attractions are set against a culture and backdrop that is inherently child welcoming.
Visiting Poland is fun for kids in so many unique ways, but more than this, the Polish culture actively encompasses children within the everyday. Public transport is child-friendly, with reduced fares, most attractions have thought of younger visitors. Polish restaurants, except the very high end, welcome children with a smile and appropriate offerings. Overall, the family-centred culture makes for a safe, enjoyable time.
Whatever your family are interested in, whatever they want to try or are looking for, Poland will have it.
Visiting Poland can be fascinating!For Kids Who Just Want to Touch & Learn
Take a child to a museum and you’re going to be battling against a barrage of ‘look, don’t touch’. Many of Poland’s top museums have thought carefully about younger visitors, making sure they are catered for, and able to learn in a fun and interactive way. Top child-friendly museums in Poland include:
Copernicus Science Centre (Warsaw): with seven permanent exhibits which actively encourage a hands-on approach and a chance to explore and test out how a huge array of things work, Copernicus Science Centre is a must for younger visitors. Whilst being particularly great for primary-aged children and teenagers, the youngest visitors aren’t forgotten with a dedicated area for the Under-6’s.
Planetarium (Warsaw): For space lovers, don’t miss out on an opportunity to visit Warsaw’s planetarium. Check out their website for up to date information on child-friendly shows and activities.
Poznan Croissant Museum (Poznan): Take our word for it, this isn’t exactly a museum, and it’s certainly not what you would expect. This is an absolute gem of a find for anyone with children who love to cook, get a little mucky, and get stuck in. It’s more like a workshop, with an opportunity to get baking with a chance to make croissants themselves.
Porta Poznania (Poznan): This fantastic history museum situated on Cathedral Island is both interactive, engaging and fun. Once little legs are tired, and grown-ups need a much needed rest, head to the roof to their chill-out zone. Even more, the museum hire out audio headsets for you and your family to explore the city, some with a focus on games and fun with an educational twist.
Hewelianum Centre (Gdansk): This is a hive of bustling activity with interactive fun exhibits as well as a giant play area to burn off some energy.
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (Oswiecim-Krakow): Whilst not recommended for younger visitors (after all this is a state memorial), teenagers will experience a powerful history lesson with a visit to this previous WW2 concentration camp. Carefully done, and beautifully presented, if your child is old enough then don’t discount this important part of Polish history.
Best Zoos for Animal Lovers and Wild Adventurers
Poland has a multitude of zoos that home a vast array of species from around the world as well as species unique to this area of Europe. Out child-friendly zoo recommendations in Poland are:
Warsaw Zoo (Warsaw): With over 4000 animals, the main highlight of Warsaw Zoo doesn’t even require you going in to the zoo itself (although we think it’s very much worth the trip). The Brown Bears of Warsaw Zoo have a large outdoor enclosure butting up to one of Warsaw’s thoroughfares, and as you wander past you can see the bears as they feed, relax, and play.
Oliwa Zoo (Gdansk): If you’re in the region of Gdansk and looking for something to entertain the younger members of your party, then do consider a visit to this wonderful gem of a zoo.
Poznan Zoo (Poznan): Poznan Zoo gets a family-friendly thumbs-up because it is like a park with the zoo woven in between, the enclosures are enormous, and animals like tigers and bears have large roaming spaces. For your own active chimps, there is an adventure rope park on site too.
Oceanarium (Krakow): Krakow’s aquarium is loved by kids of all ages: with delights such as gently bobbing seashorses and colourful tropical fish to daunting sharks.
Dinosaur Lovers: If you’ve got any budding palaeontologists on your hands then Poland has the answer, with a selection of dinosaur parks to please these explorers. There is Jura Park (Baltow), Park Dinozaurow (Leba), and Krasiejow Dinopark (Krasiejow).
Trains, Planes, and All Things That Move
Kids can’t fail to be amused and entertained by transport, and probably a large number of dads too. Of course there are the regular public transport options for getting from A to B, but taking a trip just for the sake of admiring and enjoying all things ‘transport’ we have some top Polish recommendations:
Narrow Gauge Rail Museum and Steam Train Ride (Sochaczew): For junior train spotters, or those simply enthused by steam engines, then don’t miss out on an opportunity to take the 11 mile ride to Kampinos National Park and enjoy a picnic.
Dunajec Raft Trip (Zakopane): For an experience with a difference, climb aboard an incredible handmade raft which is then ‘sailed’ by Tow Gorale, Polish highlanders, wearing traditional dress. As you travel through the beautiful countryside, the kids will just love the experience.
Mount Gubalowka Funicular (Zakopane): Please the adults in the party with stunning views, and mesmerise the children, with a trip in the funicular to the top of Mount Gubalowka.
Cable Car (Zakopane – Kasprowy Wierch): If you’re not actually planning on skiing then we recommend you take the children on the cable car outside of ski season to avoid the queues, but it is well worth doing. Children love the ride and the views from the top are spectacular.
Horse & Sleigh Rides (Zakopane): Children, particularly the youngest, will adore a winter wonderland experience being transported in a horse drawn sleigh. Wrap up warm and enjoy the tour before heading back in to Zakopane for a warming hot chocolate.
Czarna Perla (Sopot): Jack Sparrow fans will be delighted with the opportunity to climb aboard this authentic pirate ship. Whilst surrounded with all things pirate, a subtle, fun, and interactive history lesson awaits.
Citadel Park (Poznan): Younger visitors will love the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the jet planes from the Poznan Army Museum that sit within Citadel Park. Whilst there make the most of the fantastic playgrounds on offer within the park itself.
Poland’s Unique Highlights for Kids
Some of Poland’s very best attractions are keen to draw in the younger visitors and make their unique experience enjoyable and rewarding. Whilst at first glance you may think these places as reserved for adults only, let us unveil the child-friendly side.
Wieliczka Salt Mine (near Krakow): No visit to Poland is complete without an excursion to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Whatever your preconceived ideas of a salt mine you may hold, throw them out of the window, because you will be impressed and amazed with the caverns and even cathedral, underground in this mine. There are special tours organised for children which include a delightful balance of fairy-tale characters, enjoyable games, puzzle solving and even an interactive playground. Definitely not one to miss.
Underground Rynek (Krakow): Lying underneath Krakow’s famous and much loved Market Square is the Underground Rynek. Here children delight in a Child-friendly tale of the Rynek Dragon.
Smok Wawelski (Krakow): If tales of dragons isn’t enough, wow the kids with a fire-breathing monster. Krakow’s dragon breathes fire every few minutes and as such draws an excited crowd.
Lipowiec Castle (near Babice): Whilst children used to being told off for scrambling on ruins may frequently have their experience tampered at home, Lipowiec Castle allows visitors to have a scramble on the enticing ruins. The Vistula Ehtnographic Park nearby also often host workshops for children on all sorts of crafts from paper cutting to Christmas decorations.
Goats at Poznan Town Hall (Poznan): An attraction not only for the clock with the butting goats that come out each day at midday, kids love this because of the crowd it draws daily.
Wroclaw’s Dwarfs (Wroclaw): A visit to Poland wouldn’t be fulfilled without at least a few hours spent hunting down some Wroclaw Dwarfs. These little bronze friendly fellows pop up all over the city and families love to explore and try to find as many as they can hiding in all sorts of places from benches to shop windows.
For the Water Babies and Their Big Siblings
Poland does aqua parks in a big way, and wherever you are in Poland you shouldn’t be too far from somewhere to head in search of water-based indoor (and outdoor) fun. Our favourites are:
Park Wodny AquaPark (Krakow): Not just a fitness centre for the grown-ups, this aqua park offers a range of pools, some with climbing walls with a plunge to the water below, and flumes. A fun and immersive water experience for kids of all ages with a dragon fountain, wave pool, paddling pool for the toddlers, and even a play centre on site.
Wroclaw Aqua Park (Wroclaw): The main attraction here is the fun wave pool as well as a gentler lazy river for relaxing whilst afloat.
Aqua Park Zakopane (Zakopane): If you need a change from the incredible outdoor experiences of Krakow, then head to the aqua park which has fantastic flumes in a light and airy environment.
Termy Maltanskie (Poznan): A brilliantly fun water park for all ages with flumes, fountains and waves, with both indoor and outdoor pools.
Parks & Playgrounds, Playful Children’s Fun
As Poland is so child-orientated, every city welcomes children with a fantastic and growing number of playgrounds. Additionally, some of Europe’s very best parks are to be found within Poland’s borders, and the best for children include:
Park Jordanski (Krakow): This park is fantastic for children visiting Krakow. Not only is there plenty of space for running and playing games, there is an artificial lake in the centre with paddleboats and canoes, plenty of track for cycling, and even a train ride around the park.
Park Skaryszewski (Warsaw): Again you can hire canoes within the Park Skaryszewski in Warsaw as well as letting children let off some steam.
Lazienki Royal Residence Park (Warsaw): This is a beautiful park with formal style gardens, but nonetheless it is a perfect and welcoming spot for children to play a game of hide and seek or relax with family.
Adrenalin Junkies & Older Kids and Teenagers
Travelling with older kids can be a case of striking the balance between attractions for everyone and events that will have them enjoying themselves and feeling included. Poland has a young and vibrant feel and as such has plenty to offer the bored teenager as well as older kids looking for an adrenalin hit, or something ‘cool’.
Adventure Park (Gdynia): With a range of outdoor pursuits including archery, zip wires, assault courses, and quad bikes, the Adventure Park at Gdynia is perfect for your adventure seeking kids.
Trampoline Parks: Trampoline parks are springing up around Poland much like in other European countries. Most cities and larger towns are now within easy reach of a trampoline park, for example Jump City in Gdynia.
Skiing, Snowboarding and Tobogganing (Zakopane): If you’re visiting Poland in winter then consider fuelling a love of wintersports with opportunities for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing, including classes as required.
Mount Gubalowka Toboggan Run (Zakopane): If you’re visiting Zakopane in the summer then ride the funicular to the top of Mount Gubalowka and get a kick as you whizz down the toboggan run.
Watersports (Mazurian Lake District): The Mazurian Lake District offers a huge range of water sports whatever your passion. From sailing to windsurfing, and canoeing and cycling alongside the lakes, watersports is this regions means of exploring nature.
Escape Rooms (Gdansk): Teenagers will love the thrill of attempting to solve the puzzles and tricks to escape from a themed room in a set time. A fun and alternative family activity that will challenge and ignite enthusiasm.
Zalesie Mazury Spa (Mazury): Unlike many other spas, the Zalesie Mazury Spa welcomes younger visitors at their Kinder Spa where little people, older kids, and even teens, can be pampered alongside their parents.
Go-Karting, Cinema & Bowling: If the above aren’t enough to keep your older kids entertained and out of boredom, then look around the area you’re visiting for one of Poland’s many opportunities for go-karting, cinema, and bowling.
Build Some Sandcastles
Sometimes a family holiday isn’t complete without a trip to the beach, and despite preconceptions, Poland is no exception. Poland has fantastic beaches to be found, namely Sopot beach and the nearby beaches on the Hel Peninsula. Offering a relaxing opportunity to unwind in the sun, these areas are popular with families in the summer months.
Visiting Poland is Bursting with Child-Friendly Experiences
As you can see, Poland offers a vast array of experiences and attractions for families and younger visitors. From history to adrenalin sports, from culture to fun, there really is something for everyone in Poland.
Come and explore, Poland is waiting for your next family holiday.